The Real Cost of Reels: A Budgetary Breakdown of Video Production
October 7, 2020
Would you trust a Tesla that costs a grand? An iPhone for a hundred dollars? A La Colombe coffee for a dime? Quality product costs; quality content in video production is no different. You expect the caliber of your favorite brands reflected in their price. And your audience wants the same from their beloved video content.
Most organizations grasp the need to give Communications and Marketing teams high-quality video. Top-caliber, emotive content with resonant messaging and maximum efficiency. Video remains the most potent part of your digital arsenal, with measurable impact for your stakeholders and audiences.
Despite the value of video content, many organizations still struggle to understand professional video production costs. Confusion abounds for clients regarding what (and who) they are paying for in this industry. Let’s clarify matters. We’re going to detail the rundown of video project cost categories. This includes upgrades and limitations, depending on your budget realities.
The vital planning phase of video production serves as a foundation for your project and includes:
*All featured figures below are given in ranges. Creative studios charge varied amounts because of variables like Market, Overhead, Expertise, Reputation. The featured costs are by no means all-encompassing. They represent our own 8-year experience making professional videos for organizations.
Creative Direction ($1,200-$3,800):
Macro and micro-decisions on lighting and camera angles will determine what resonates most with your audience. Choices may include shooting in 4K, opting for one or two cameras, or selecting the choicest B-roll video. This phase guides the visual storytelling to ensure audiences’ engagement with your CTA.
Art Direction ($1,200-$4,500):
Gradients, placement, colors, fonts, oh my! This service addresses these critical aesthetic decisions while unearthing which graphic elements (title/art cards) and animated logos represent your brand best.
Project Management & Coordination ($750-$3,200):
Logistical considerations of your video shoot include:
Essential crew members
Location and timeline
Let’s figure out:
Integrated campaign collateral
Digital ad spending,
Maximizing your message’s resonance with the audience
If the shoot requires a proper screenplay, let’s master the message, narrative, and tone. Even if it’s documentary-style, we’ll consider the most engaging questions so that interviewees serve the story best.
We map out how the video unfolds, evoking the right visuals to ensure heightened messaging and engagement.*Cost varies based on total project specifications. Per example, Strategy can be annualized, while Storyboards can be expensive if the video’s duration proves long.
The Best Paid Plans
Never overlook Pre-Production budgeting. It’s crucial to do correctly, but catastrophic when ignored. Without it, it’s like teaching your kids via Zoom.
Pre-Production budgeting varies a lot depending on project specifics. On the lower end, Pre-Production could run at $750. If Creative and Art Direction are in place, all we’d need to do is manage the project. The smaller the project, the lower the fee for Project Management. On the high end, Pre-Production could run into the tens of thousands and beyond. It all hinges on the planning required so that you’re ready for your close-up with the next step, Production.
Believe the hype. Production is the most fun you will have on a video project. As someone who has been on hundreds of sets, I’ll attest.
That said, some clients are unsure exactly who all these people are at their offices and why we need just so many people to do our job. We take client education seriously, so let’s answer the question you’ve tried Googling before. Who are all these people? And what are all these shiny gadgets (and can I play with them)?
Video Production Work(s)
We break the Production budget into two categories: Labor and Equipment. Labor could include:
Director of Photography (DP)
Assistant Camera Operator(s)
Digital Imaging Technician (DIT)
Live Video Editor
Hair and Makeup Artist
Art Director/Set Designer
Production Assistants (PA)
And that’s still not everyone. Musicians and script supervisors, anyone? Production’s scalability at a high level is what you imagine (correctly) on movie sets. There are hundreds of people all focused on a singular vision. It’s a striking clockwork of motion when properly executed.
Instead of the Hollywood treatment, we’ll limit cost buckets to the reasonable expectations of a corporate/organizational shoot.
*All rates referenced below reflect day rates, meaning the cost per-day of each worker. Multiple-day shoots have a cost multiplier per each price by the number of days. As stated above, please consider the below figures to be the general industry standards, based solely on our own industry experience.
*Please also kindly note that we are not the cheapest option for video production. Metamer adamantly provides a quality service. The below rates are not freelancer rates, but Studio rates. As the old maxim goes, ‘Oh, I can tell you shot this on your phone.’
Labor: Building the Right Team
The Producer is the (reusable) straw that stirs the drink, essential in bringing any project vision to life in on-set production. The Producer represents the client’s interests and works steadfastly with the Director to implement agreed-upon Pre-Production planning. Their vested interest is that the content captured in Production serves the exact purpose of the total project requirements.
The Director is the definitive leader of any video production project. They are intimately involved in Pre-Production and aware of all project details down to the very last frame. They are equivalent to the Creative Director on-set and report only to the Producer. The Director’s responsibilities are countless, but primarily it’s the assurance that Pre-Production ideas and concepts are manifested and captured by their crew.
Director of Photography ($1,200-$2,200):
The Director may also serve as the Director of Photography (DP) in many instances. The DP is the Camera Department head, ensuring all technical Pre-Production guidelines and responsible for all images captured on-set.
Camera Operator ($900-$1,500):
Camera operators are experts in technically capturing motion images. They are well-versed in all the specifications demanded on any given project. Meanwhile, they provide stylistic, creative approaches to the film. If you’ve ever experienced a novice Camera Operator messing up White Balance, Slating/Timecode, Frame Rate (!), or Aspect Ratio, you know how costly such messes can be. Entire video projects can fail due to these common mistakes made by inexperienced Camera Operators.
Audio Technician ($1,100-$2,500):
In the industry, we always laud our Audio Techs for, ‘doing half the work themselves’. Clean, quality audio is needed for ideal video production. For small video projects, with only a couple of interviewees or none at all, we sometimes dispense with the audio professionals and rely on DPs/Camera Ops to set up audio capture.Still, the results sound off for themselves.
Quality audio with rich bass recorded by a dedicated technician is markedly distinct, whether you’re an audiophile or not. And an on-set dedicated Audio Technician frees up DPs/Camera Operators to spend their limited, valuable time ensuring camera angles, lighting, set design, and other details are where they need to be.
Or, a Lighting Technician. Gaffers seamlessly shape light so that scenes come to life. The drastic difference in production value between those projects with a dedicated lighting professional and those without are severe. If you ever plan a green screen shoot, you better budget for a Gaffer.
A pliable Builder and perhaps the most essential person on any medium-to-large set besides possibly the Director and Producer. Grips build things so that shots work. They craft dollies, vehicle camera mounts, even risers/stages or motorized spinning rigs for camera systems. Grips are the unsung heroes of nearly all filmmaking, though most ‘corporate’ shoots do not require them.
Necessary for large-scale productions that require a review of ‘dailies’, meaning Executives and Producers need to see the footage of a given day and make pressing content and distribution decisions.
Live Video Editor ($850-$1,500):
Sometimes, video editing needs to be in real-time, delivering content as quickly as possible. Relevant cases include live events requiring interactive, steady content pipelines. Or situations that need extremely fast turn-arounds for content delivery. Or to put it simply, when there’s live, omnichannel repurposing and distribution.
Technical Director ($1,200-$2,500):
Technical Directors are necessary for livestream and broadcast productions. They’re responsible for all technology systems and integrations associated with successful, high-quality, and optimized livestreaming for web and mobile.
Livestream Operator ($1,100-$1,800):
The individual who operates the switchboard for a livestream and manages the fidelity and optimization for one or multiple platforms. A crucial role in ensuring flawless live stream videos. This means proper camera switches, graphics queues, and music plus any other supplemental content opportunities.
Teleprompter Operator ($350-$600):
Teleprompters are an imperfect technology, but there are good use cases nonetheless (I just read this text off one).
You’re never going to get circa 1954 Brando. But if you’re scripting something which requires actors, industry best practice is to book the best talent you can with your resources. It’s wise to budget well for quality talent or risk an underwhelming performance that’ll still cost a decent amount.
Hair and Makeup Artist ($450-$1,300):
Now, I should specify that most great Makeup Artists (MUAs) do not do hair, and most great Hair Artists do not do makeup. It’s a bit of an opportunity in our industry for a business that can do both well, but not all productions call for them. I have done rudimentary makeup for hundreds of interviewees because the budget didn’t allow for Hair and Makeup. That said, foundation and follicles aren’t my forte, so it’s probably best not to trust your Director with Hair/Makeup.
Set Designer/Art Director ($1,000-$3,000):
Most videos don’t need a Set Designer/Art Director, but if you’re making an advertisement for broadcast or a high-end video intended for mass distribution, it’s a must. Most corporate videos can safely rely on other crew members’ creativity to dress the set, but I’d never make something with a massive ad buy behind it without an Art Director.
Video Equipment: Your Essentials
HD Camera Kit ($200+):
All camera kits should include the following:
Traditional 1080p HD video remains our standard for web and streaming. However, much less understood is codec and bit-rate. High-end camera systems deliver much more visual data in the form of a bit-depth and encoding envelope than the laymen may imagine. ‘HD’ should be rebranded as ‘lesser video’ since 4K rendered in 1080 is infinitely more pleasing to the eye because it contains 4x (!) the visual data. Math.
Suppose you intend to distribute content on social media. In that case, a 1080 camera system suffices, but you will always notice the results when you upgrade to a 4K system, even when you are distributing in 1080p. Please note that this is geeked-out technical. I could discuss the benefits/drawbacks of 1080 vs. 4K ad nauseam. You can hit me up directly if this piques your fancy.
4K Camera Kit ($500+):
I cannot recommend splurging for 4K equipment enough. 4K gives video editors in Post-Production the bandwidth to punch in on footage (we can zoom in even 200% in editing without much informational data loss). And the color data value proposition between 4K and HD is preposterously one-sided. If you want your images to sing, scream, and whisper, there is quite frankly no reason not to shoot 4K for any platform.
Cinema-grade camera systems rely on the quality of ‘glass,’ which feeds their digital sensors. We own all our lenses for this reason. Putting a weak lens on a great camera makes that great camera mediocre. Would you want old, tired eyes feeding your brain the
visual data you see all around you? That’s the value of superior lenses. And what’s more, you can enhance visual metaphor by choosing a specific lens. There is a world of creative opportunity waiting just by selecting the right camera system-lens pair.
Audio Equipment ($250-$1,250):
A fantastic audio experience for audiences starts with the Audio Technician (or DP trained in Audio.) Equipment is nothing without a great operator, and there are many levels of capture for any given project as it relates to audio. Lavaliers, Boom/Shotgun systems, even wavelength capture is commercially viable depending upon need. We are at the very advent of real audio technology. Anybody who’s ever
been on speaker with a friend knows that making sure your audience hears you right is half (or all) the battle.
Lighting Fixtures & Accessories ($450+):
Lighting equipment runs that gamut. It requires a small expenditure to ensure quality lighting, owing mostly to LED technology developments over the past few years. We don’t mess around with lights, as they’re an essential part of any video production.
On-Set Monitor ($250-$500):
Not a considerable expenditure, but isn’t it perfect for all your internal stakeholders who are on-set to see the shoot in sparkling 24” 4K resolution? These monitors also let you view what your audiences will and that’s an invaluable asset.
Camera Stabilization System ($300-$950):
A ‘floating’ camera is the best thing that ever happened to b-roll. Camera Stabilization Systems are weighty, tricky to operate, and time-consuming on-set. However, giving your audience the impression of flying is grade-A production value stuff. The smoothness of b-roll garnered with professional camera stabilization makes viewers equate your content with the Super Bowl, the Emmys, Ozark, you name it. Such a value add for A/V media is unicorn-rare.
Aerial Drone ($400-$1,500):
Similar to Camera Stabilization is Aerial Drone footage. It used to cost a helicopter and pilot price plus hazard pay for a DP/Camera Operator to incorporate the feeling of flying way above cityscapes. Now, owned equipment can capture 4K resolution video while hovering above any subject of interest. We’ve even launched a drone from focusing on a human’s eyeball to city-level height. Imagine the possibilities.
Grip Equipment ($0-$5,000):
Grips can do almost anything with nothing. They are genuinely some of the most talented engineers who don’t work for Toyota. Grip equipment can include full-on rafters to punch light through a 40-foot high exterior window. Or it could mean managing a small build of a green screen so that there are zero creases visible to the camera.
There are literal ‘grip trucks,’ that are quite common in video production. These include all the tools necessary for a grip to make anything, frankly. It all depends on what we’re trying to accomplish. I’ll repeat it, Grips are the most useful people besides Directors and Producers on any set.
Support Equipment ($0+):
Filmmaking is rife with, ‘it’d be great if we had.’ There’s almost no end to what can be got and used in a filmmaking endeavor. I’ve rented motorcycles, obtained variable shoulder rigs, and strapped myself to giant mid-century seacraft to do my job. Nothing is impossible, and if it is, we can fake it with 3D motion graphics in Post-Production.
Post-Production is where our final project output is crafted and typically the lengthiest video production phase. Post is the confluence of the first two phases, meaning Post-Production takes its foremost guidance from Pre-Production documentation and places media captured during Production into the story’s framework. Post-Production includes but is not limited to:
Most Hollywood films spend months, if not years, in Post-Production — and there’s a reason: it’s arduous work. A video editor must watch and listen to every second of media captured during production, as they create ‘selects reels’. These include only the best bites and log footage/b-roll, which they then develop and apply color profiles to (another blog altogether) and ensure proper audio levels.
Also, an Illustrator and Motion Graphics Animator must design and apply motion to every additive element. These include lower third animation, animated characters, infographics, and seamless transitions. Post-Production is the final flourish, the interior design of any video project — Frankenstein’ing a fully honed and manifested vision into undeniably engaging video content.
Here’s a breakdown of Post-Production costs:
Video Editor ($750-$1,500):
A proper Video Editor is the right hand to a Director and most top Directors have a swath of experience editing video. The editing process is a long, crucial one in achieving desired results. Skimping on editing hours will dramatically exponentially reduce ROI. Consider an editor at an agency. What do they do? They make sure every letter is perfect for their audience. A video editor does that 1,035 times a day.
Motion Graphics Artist/Animator ($1,200-$3,200):
Motion Graphics and Animation are crucial for any video project that wants to impress its audience. Even Buzzfeed has quality animation, and that’s no mistake (they made a list about it). Nothing adds production value like well-designed, abstract, and expository animation. But quality MoGraph and Animation are not for the budget-conscious.
This stuff is costly because the people who do it are more or less the Michaelangeos of our time. What they do is genuinely meticulous work, with
their animated key-frames, interstitials, and the like. But what value is connotated by a dope logo bump animation? Killer lower thirds? An expert demonstration of concepts without the walls of what’s capturable by cameras?
Audio Engineer ($900-1,700):
Mixing, Audio Design, and Effects are musts for effective messaging. If you need proof of this, watch (and listen) to The Social Network. The way that audio draws audiences is so perfect, I almost forgive Mark Zuckerberg.
Music and video are both temporal arts made for each other. Top stock music is relatively cheap but full-on custom compositions are costly in the utmost.
Color Grading ($950-$1,600):
This includes not only the standard work like mandatory balancing of contrast and brightness but more importantly, the selection of thematic color representation. These choices will further heighten and transmit a video conceptually. Color is crucial, and our technology makes it possible to encode video with our audience’s color preferences. It’s almost magic.
There is no reason to make a video for any distribution channel without considering whether the same content exists on other channels. Video is expensive, and it behooves the savvy executive to discuss possibilities for leveraging bought assets towards secondary goals. We are experts in this purview as all of our work links to an overall Strategy. Metamer knows the distribution of video content is just as (if not more) important than the content itself.
Encoding, uploading, revising, and transferring of content involved. We employ a variety of on-and-offline mechanisms for giving our clients what they need. Anticipate costs to mirror lift in Delivery, as this is the final stage of video production (oh, you wanted more?). Most studios are likely to cut you a deal on labor associated with it. Per example, we sometimes offer to waive delivery fees for larger projects.
Best Video Production Value in DC
There you have it, a complete rundown of what you may expect when embarking on a video production project. We at Metamer Studios are happy to discuss and custom quote any project that’s a match for both of us. The above sheds a bit of light on the costs and details of making your video and serves in the interest of always being transparent with our clients and community about our industry.
So, why is quality video content so expensive? It took over three thousand words to explain. So, budget wisely friends. But know that a genius, branded video lives forever, echoing your organization’s message for all to see, hear, and engage. And that’s priceless.